Last month, I stopped at Schnucks in Peoria to purchase a couple of items. After I left the store, I drove alongside the curb in front of the store toward Glen Avenue. The weather was warm and there were a lot of people walking near the area where I was driving. After stopping at one of the small stop signs between Schnucks and Bed Bath & Beyond, I proceeded forward.
All of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I saw that there were a couple of people within inches of the driver’s side of my car. I don’t know why I didn’t see them when I pulled away from the stop sign. After passing them, I realized they might have intended to cross in front of my car while I was stopped.
I looked in my rearview mirror and saw it was a woman with a young girl about four or five years old. They were holding hands and, as they crossed behind my car, the woman glared at me and sent me a message by thrusting her left middle finger into the air. She kept her finger up while she continued to hold the girl’s hand and walk toward the entrance of Bed Bath & Beyond.
My first thoughts were, Did I almost hit them with my car? Why didn’t I see them? My next thought was, My mom would never have behaved that way in front of one of her children. (I may have been wrong, but I assumed that the girl was the woman’s daughter.)
One of my daughters, Maria, lives near Chicago with her husband, Joe, and their two young daughters, Grace and Katie. Grace is two years old and Katie is four months old. Last weekend, Georgette and I went to Chicago. When we returned home, we brought Maria and her two daughters with us to stay at our house for the week.
After we arrived home on Sunday evening, we went downstairs to rearrange the furniture in our spare bedroom. When we were about halfway done, I realized that I needed something from upstairs, so I left the room to go look for what I needed. A few minutes after I left, Georgette called up to me and said that they needed my help moving a couple more items. I told her that I would come downstairs to help in a few minutes.
About a minute after I responded to Georgette, Grace came up the stairs and walked over to me and said, “Why did you disappear from downstairs?” I asked, “Who told you that I disappeared?” Instead of answering my question, she asked again, “Why did you disappear?”
Shortly after Georgette and I got married (over 32 years ago), she started calling me “Houdini.” The name came from the great magician Harry Houdini. Georgette claimed that I was like Houdini because I disappeared every time there was work to be done around the house. She didn’t realize it at the time, but my ability to avoid work and “disappear” was a finely honed skill that I had developed during the years I was growing up in our large family of 17 children.
When Grace asked me why I disappeared, I assumed that either Maria or Georgette made a comment that I had disappeared after I went upstairs.
I was determined to find out why my two-year-old granddaughter was claiming that I was trying to get out of doing some work by disappearing, so I picked her up and carried her downstairs. When I told Georgette and Maria what Grace had said and asked which of them had claimed that I disappeared, they both laughed and said that neither of them had made any such reference. I insisted that Grace would not have linked the word “disappear” with my going upstairs unless she had heard it used in the context of my attempting to avoid work.
Georgette and Maria again denied that they said anything about me disappearing. I then concluded that, sometime during the past two years, Grace has heard someone — her mom, her grandmother, another family member — make reference to a person disappearing when there’s work to be done. This is an example of how easily even very young children pick up words and beliefs from those around them. (I didn’t ask Maria, but now I’m wondering whether she has ever followed in her mother’s footsteps by accusing her husband of disappearing when there’s work to be done around the house.)
When I was 12 years old, I remember riding in my mom’s station wagon with several of my brothers. The topic of cussing came up. During the discussion that followed, we talked about how several of our classmates habitually used bad language on the school bus and playground. After asking a few questions, my mom said, “I feel sorry for people who use bad language. It’s unfortunate that their vocabulary is so limited that they can’t come up with the right words to communicate their thoughts.”
Instead of lecturing us about why it was wrong to use bad or offensive language, my mom cleverly framed her statement in such a way that the message conveyed was that we would be stupid if we behaved the same way that our fellow students did. She implied that we were better, smarter, and more advanced than our classmates because we didn’t have to resort to cussing to get our point across in a conversation.
As I was growing up, my mom constantly reminded my brothers and sisters and me that we had an obligation to be “good examples” to our younger siblings, because they were like sponges that absorbed everything that happened around them. She was acutely aware that our words and actions would have a powerful impact on the future behavior of her younger children.
Most of us tend to take credit for our positive attributes and achievements without giving much thought to how those attributes and achievements were developed and refined by our mothers while we were growing up. We conveniently forget that there was a special woman in our lives who set aside her own ambitions so she could care for and develop us into mature, loving adults.
Today, I want to thank and honor all the mothers who sacrificed the better part of their lives for their children. I want especially to thank and honor the mothers who helped form me into the person I am today. These include my own mother, Kathryn M. Williams, my grandmothers, Effie Williams and Cecilia LaHood; my wife, Georgette Williams; my daughters, Anna Russell and Maria Hercik; and my daughter-in-law, Kathryn N. Williams. All of you have made heroic contributions to our society and our world. You were willing to sacrifice your bodies, your hearts, your careers, your time, your lives, and — at times — your sanity, so your children could achieve their full potential.
There’s an old saying, “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” We need more mothers who will, by their words and example, (1) raise their children to be devout Catholics, (2) teach them how to work and manage their lives and relationships, and (3) teach them that differences are best settled with clear and respectful communication, not by crude and offensive language or gestures.
Our hope for the future depends on the mothers of the world.
Happy Mother’s Day!